We’ve all got desires. Some would like to say that we are rational creatures able to make rational decisions, but let’s face it, no matter how stoic you may be, there are things in which you deeply long. Maybe it’s for security, for a bright future, for an escape from your current situation. If you’re single, maybe it is for a husband or wife. If you are married, perhaps it is for a child or for restoration in a tense relationship.
One of the frustrations I’ve encountered as a single person who desires to be married is constantly being told that because I have that desire, it is given to me by God and will be fulfilled. Doesn’t Psalm 37:4 say, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart”?
While hearing this may be comforting in the moment, I believe that it can wreak a lot of long-term damage. Because I look around at a lot of fantastic older women who desire marriage but are still waiting. We have many desires, some of them good, and some of them, frankly, are evil and selfish. As humans marred by sin, many of the desires we have are also tainted by sin and selfishness. However, these desires point to our ultimate desire which is fulfilled in Christ. It is by delighting in him that our desires our fulfilled.
As St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologica,
“The knowledge that God exists is inborn in us in a general and somewhat confused manner. For God is the final beatitude of man, and a man desires beatitude naturally, and is so naturally aware of what he desires.But this is absolute knowledge that God exists, any more than to know that someone is coming to know that Peter is coming, even though it is actually Peter who comes. Many indeed think that riches are man’s perfect good, and constitute his beatitude.Others think that pleasures are his perfect good, and others again something else.” (from “Nature and Grace”, Question Two, Article 1).
In other words, we as humans are given desires. We are created in God’s image, and part of that, I’d like to posit, is to desire our Creator (Gen 1:27). Our yearning for something more is placed in us because we were created to know the self-revealing God. Those desires point to a deeper and God-given desire–to know the Lord and to delight in him. And those desires are guaranteed to be fulfilled.
St. Anselm declares in Proslogion,
“You [God] are nothing save the one and supreme good, You who are completely sufficient unto Yourself, needing nothing, but rather He whom all things need in order that they may have being and well being” (XXII).
This gives us hope! Our deepest desires will be fulfilled. And our desires point to that deep desire. For example, while I desire marriage, while I desire union with another person with whom I can serve, that specific desire may not be fulfilled. God’s self-revelation in His word does not promise everyone marriage. Rather, as St. Paul writes, “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this: I wish that all were as I myself am [that is single]. But each has his own gift from God [marriage or singleness], one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:6-7).
Now, that may sound disappointing. To those that deeply desire marriage, it may seem more like a curse than a gift to be single. However, examine that desire. What is it really saying? Perhaps this desire for union, for connectedness through marriage, is pointing to our deep, God-given longing for union with him. Marriage is a shadow of the union that the Church will have with Christ in the new heavens and new earth (Ephesians 5:32). This deep longing will be fulfilled in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). All will have the deep connection that they long for. While it may not be in the way that we want, it will be in the way it was intended and need.
Another desire I have, and perhaps you do too, is that of a fulfilling vocation. I desire this, but I may not get that. Even those with the best jobs for them still have bad days, still have times where they wonder, “what the heck am I doing.” But when I think about this desire, I realize that it points to the desire I was created with to love and serve the Lord. When he created Adam and Eve, he created them to serve him and to tend his world. However because of the fall, that has been marred and broken. Work is hard, it can be exhausting, and sometimes it isn’t all that fulfilling. However, this desire will be fulfilled perfectly when we are in the New Jerusalem,
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. -Isaiah 65:19-24
So, as we desire, let us be careful in where our hope lies. Is our hope in that when we receive what we want–marriage, career, success, money–we will be fulfilled? If it is, we will be sorely disappointed.
As beings made in the image of God, we were made only to be truly fulfilled by Him. Our desires let us know that there is something outside of ourselves that we need. It is a reminder that we cannot be self-sufficient.
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”–Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)
So, as Anselm writes, let us remember to “desire the simple good which contains every good”–that is God.
“Why, then, do you wander about so much, O insignificant man, seeking the goods of your soul and body? Love the one good in which ll good things are, and that is sufficient. Desire the simple good which contains every good, and that is enough. For what do you love, O my flesh, what do you desire, O my soul?” Proslogion, XXV
Let us remember the One in whom to delight. He will most assuredly give us what we desire when we desire Him. He will give us what we need and He will give us what we would desire even if we don’t know what that should be.